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Birthdays, Truffles, Festivals and - Sports!

Paris:- Sunday, 7. March 1999:- It has been a slow news week in France if the front pages of Le Parisien reflect current events. The European press in general is searching for a good 'President Clinton' type of story, but Europeans are so much more fundamentally into sleaze, that finding something truly juicy is no easy matter.

Alleged ripoffs at the national and European levels are so routine and grossly huge, that certified total eclipses make better headlines. Sports, of course, are sports; and while Le Parisien may be wobbly, I'm sure its sister paper L'Equipe is not.

On Friday, the papers shook off their lethargy to re-run the continuing story of Christine Deviers-Joncour. In Le Parisien's case, they ran Monica Lewinsky's photo on the front page too, just to show we have stories just as good as 'over there.'

Madame Deviers-Joncour had a boyfriend who was a friend of friends and there was a sale of some warships to Taiwan and somehow a whole mess of francs washed through a bank account in Madame Deviers-Joncour's name in Switzerland, because she worked in some made-up job at the oil company, Elf.

It is a long, rather complicated story involving people who once ran Elf and who are now in jail - but not convictedphoto: nicolas wine shop of everything, yet - and current government ministers who were one-time boyfriends and friends of friends of friends.

If in doubt about wine, Nicolas is sort of a national guarantee.

To give an idea of the gravity of a situation nobody understands and nobody but a handful of prosecuting judges seem to be worried about, Madame Deviers-Joncour has often repeated in public that she has no intention of committing suicide anytime in the near future.

As Libération put it on Friday, it is all about the Republic's underwear and the judges who would like to send it out to be cleaned, and the possibility that Madame Deviers-Joncour may be the 'cleaning lady.'

Madame Deviers-Joncour coined the phrase, 'Putain de la République,' as the title for her book of memoirs but it is routinely used in newspaper headlines as synonym for Madame Deviers-Joncour.

I don't know whether she has benefitted from this free publicity, but she has also been denounced - a nice old Nazi and Vichy practice - as a 'bag-lady' who made a good profit.

The figures mentioned started out at 45 million francs and now stand at 59 million. Her book is selling between 200 to 300 copies a day and has sold 110,000 since it came out in November.

Madame Deviers-Joncour has been talking to the judges as well as nearly non-stop to the press and TV-news, so she is visible and vocal - out in the open. People making anonymous denouncements are heard but not seen. She has apparently been told 'they' have advised her to shut up if she wishes to get out of her 'own' legal problems.

Rumor has it that Madame Deviers-Joncour has hired a pair of bodyguards. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ditch, Monica Lewinsky is reported to be hiring accountants and lawyers to handle her new 'windfall' income.

Concorde Turns 30

On 2. March 1969, chief pilot André Turcat, took Concorde 001 into the sky for the first time. On 1. October, he stepped on the gas and punched Concorde 001 through the supersonic barrier. On 9. April, the British put their number 002 into the air too. The sleek plane has been flying ever since.

In 1967 the consortium had options for 74 ofphoto: 30 years concorde, le parisien the planes from major airlines worldwide but it wasn't until 1974 that the two governments involved decided to put it into production. That year BOAC and Air France ordered nine machines.

But by then the first 'oil shock' had happened, and the airlines dumped their options. The US, which had abandoned its own SST in 1971, was left cold by the Concorde which made its first transatlantic Paris-Washington flight in 3 hours and 30 minutes on 26. September 1973.

Only 14 examples were built and the Concorde was put into scheduled service in January of 1976. Failure to get permission to operate normally on runs to New York, doomed the possibility of commercial success. It is expected the plane will continue to fly until 2010 before it shows excessive age.

Good Sniffers and the Best

Last weekend, some good old French boys went out and buried some truffles. The picked plots of 25 square metres, and planted six truffles in each of them.

The next day, some other good old French boys showed up with 31 dogs to compete for the best truffle-nose at Suze-la- Russe in the Drôme. A German shepherd from Cahors in the Lot, beat the other 30 dogs.

It isn't that dogs are better at it than pigs, but dogs are more obedient. Training is started at six weeks and even includes the dogs tasting truffles as well as getting to know the smell of them. Young, lucky, dogs even have truffles mixed in with their dog food.

Labradors are the favorites because of their acute sense of smell - and are also used by the blind, the customs service, and the mountain rescue teams. A good, three-year old truffle dog is worth about 15,000 francs, but can go as high as 50,000.

France Festivals Corp.

Each year about 2000 festivals are staged in France and they draw about five million people. For some provincial towns, festivals have launched permanent local industries.

One such, is Angoulème, with its comic-book festival. The town calculates the festival has created 400 full-time jobs and attracted 25 comic-related businesses, which in turn employ an additional 1700. Another is classical music mecca Aix-en-Provence, which has gained 90 companies due to its festival.

But not all sites work out. Nice, with television, has been unable to out do Cannes, with movies. The science-fiction film festival at Avoriaz went into a tailspin after losing its lease and moving to Gérardmer.

Although medium-sized towns benefit most because they have sufficient means to handle a large, short-term influx of festival visitors, some smaller places have been able to pull them off with success too.

Nexon, a village of 2300 inhabitants about 20 kilometres from Limoges, has pulled in 15 to 25,000 each year for the past seven, to see 'circus arts.'

This started in 1987 when Annie Fratelliniphoto: arcades on rivoli started her circus school there, and the mayor thought he saw a good thing. The attending public has tripled in two years and the town still has only one hotel.

Not a festival; just a normal winter day on the Rue de Rivoli when there's nobody around.

However, everybody around the town has found a room to let out, a campsite to open, a souvenir shop to set up. Annual visitors leave two million francs behind in a small place that was once only known for its pure-blood horse breeding.

The Nexon festival only lasts a couple of weeks and is not enough to open another hotel, or build a school. But it is enough to make the area more attractive, and new people are moving in and buying houses.

Looking ahead, Nexon has a five-year plan to build a fixed-roof circus tent - possibly to make it a year-round training centre. Already, Nexon has Europe's most popular summer circus festival.

Sports News

Sports News happened twice during the week. Last Tuesday, Le Parisien announced, 'Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille - Six Hours of Non-Stop Football!'

Yesterday's paper said, 'What a Weekend on TV! 12 Hours of Sports!' Le Parisien is known by some to be the taxi drivers' paper of choice. They sit for long hours sometimes, and Le Parisien's sports scores plus the racehorse 'futures' take up a lot of their time - although I think serious taxi-driving sportsfans probably read the all-sports L'Equipe.

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